What the hail?

Nov 11, 2010

There were times when even Mother Nature turned against those of us trying to protect the great outdoors from abusers.

Such was the case June 13, 1983, when, accompanied by my deputy warden, Scott Sienkiewicz, Mother Nature had a bad spell. All at once, we found ourselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The morning started off as usual, with a host of errands to run pertaining to fish and game matters. Before day's end, I planned on making a trip to Newport for subpoenas for an upcoming trial.

It was a beautiful but blistering hot day and we cruised across the countryside in the new Dodge pickup truck I'd recently been issued. The new vehicle was a welcome replacement for the old cruiser I'd sent over to the retirement shed.

Whenever I was blessed with a new vehicle, I promised to keep it clean, shiny and in tip-top shape. That is, until I got my first dent. Then I considered it to be fair game for whatever duties I needed to best perform my job.

Sadly, and certainly nothing to be proud of by any means, my reputation for taking care of equipment was short of outstanding, to say the least.

Admittedly, I kind of operated on a theory that the issued equipment was to be used to its fullest. And, more often than not, at some point in my patrol area I'd steer my cruiser toward places it shouldn't have been.

Now, I hope you don't assume I purposely abused my equipment by going into those places. The thought never crossed my mind. It just happened to be the way things happened.

These circumstances always seemed to occur after I had nickel and dimed the cruiser to death, resulting in minor dings, scratches, dents and an occasional silver-dollar mark after encounters with rocks, logs and tree branches.

Such blemishes usually were the result of me poking through the back country where the majority of illegal activity occurred.

I'd be extremely careful motoring through the countryside. That is, until that first dent or ding appeared, then gradually, I'd be more intent on catching someone doing something wrong than I was worrying about yet another scratch on my cruiser.

The boss always held me accountable for those sins, as he damn well should. So I can't hold him in contempt. I definitely deserved what I got for a rating – although in this case, for once, it was not my fault.

There we were on that hot and humid summer day, minding our own business, enjoying a northward cruise on Interstate 95 from Fairfield to Newport to pick up documents I needed for a pending court trial.

Off in the distance, the sky suddenly got eerily black, indicating an ominous frontal system from an approaching midday thunderstorm. Mother Nature was about ready to provide some welcome relief from the unusual and rather intense heat we'd experienced the previous few days.

It was like nothing I'd ever seen before; the closer we got to the storm, the blacker the sky became.

“Looks like we're going to be stuck in the middle of a torrential downpour,” I said to Scott.

A solid line of jet-black clouds was directly ahead of us — clouds that suddenly dove straight toward the ground then streaked back skyward. It looked like a tornado in the making, as waves of dark clouds danced in front of us. Lightning flashed in the distance.

Suddenly — bang! bang! bang! — drops of ice hit the windshield and pelted the truck.

Before we could pull over to the side of the road, the sky opened up with hail stones the size of golf balls, followed by loud claps of thunder and bright flashes of lightning.

Mother Nature was unleashing her wrath, the likes of which I'd never experienced before.

It appeared as though the windshield was going to shatter as hail pounded the vehicle with a deafening roar, forcing us to come to a rather abrupt stop on the side of the Interstate. All travel along the busy highway came completely to a standstill. We couldn't see more than 4 feet ahead at any time during the bombardment.

As fast as the storm arrived, it was over, quickly moving to the east. Within a few brief minutes, travel again resumed and we continued north, relieved to still have an intact windshield.

We passed a slow-moving motorist who appeared, as evidenced by his 10-day plates, to be the proud owner of a brand new vehicle. As we sailed by, his mouth was moving a mile a minute and he was banging his fist on the steering wheel in obvious disgust.

Only then did I notice the hood of his vehicle was completely rippled with dents, apparently caused by the hail storm we'd just experienced.

“Look at that poor guy's car. He's some damn upset and I don't blame him,” I said to Scott, chuckling.

Glancing out the windshield, I suddenly noticed my new cruiser had suffered the same results. “ *#!*-damn it all, look at the hood of my new truck,” I screamed. I suddenly realized my cruiser had been beaten and battered.

From that day on, I didn't have to worry about the nickel or dime dents in my vehicle, I'd experienced a complete bath of silver dollar injuries from that swift-moving storm.

I could continue with my duties like so many times before and not have to worry about scratching or denting my warden's truck. Mother Nature had done the job for me, and she had done it quite well.

Later that evening, we heard on the news that the freak storm did far more damage to the area than what we'd experienced. Ten planes stored at Poverty Flats airstrip in Clinton had been completely de-fabricated by the hail dancing across the rural little airstrip.

Do you suppose the boss would accept my explanation for the dents and dings in my new vehicle?

I was sure that I'd find out the very next time the efficiency report was filed.

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